“Definitely helped having a lineup change,” said Kevin Durant, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds but wasn’t asked to bear the burden he did in San Antone. “Having Serge back is a big plus, and then having another attacker on the floor in Reggie, somebody that can create for everybody and also create for himself, is good.”
This series remains in the Spurs’ control. To win the West, the Thunder has to win two more home games and somehow get a split of two games in San Antonio. Not easy. But not impossible. And impossible it was before Ibaka returned.
“He was incredible,” said San Antonio magician Manu Ginobili. “For having sat out awhile and being considered out, he started the game hot. He made a few jumpers, we had to adjust. But we took the hit well, considering the emotion that he brought to the game.”
That’s the thing. The Thunder didn’t win this game on emotion. This wasn’t Willis Reed limping out just before the buzzer to invigorate the entire island of Manhattan. The Thunder actually trailed after one quarter Sunday night.
Ibaka brought energy to the fan base and hope to his teammates. But the tangible benefits he supplies is of paramount import. Ibaka is a difference-making ballplayer.
“Serge is a great player,” Brooks said. “He’s been a big part of our success. We’ve won a lot of games and won a lot of series with him.”
And looked lost in two games without Ibaka. Now he’s back. The Thunder has its team. Series on.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1.